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RADIATION-INDUCED EFFECTS ON PLANTS AND ANIMALS: FINDINGS OF THE UNITED NATIONS CHERNOBYL FORUM

Hinton, Thomas G.*; Alexakhin, Rudolph; Balonov, Mikhail; Gentner, Norman§; Hendry, Jolyn; Prister, Boris**; Strand, Per††; Woodhead, Dennis‡‡

doi: 10.1097/01.HP.0000281179.03443.2e
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Several United Nations organizations sought to dispel the uncertainties and controversy that still exist concerning the effects of the Chernobyl accident. A Chernobyl Forum of international expertise was established to reach consensus on the environmental consequences and health effects attributable to radiation exposure arising from the accident. This review is a synopsis of the subgroup that examined the radiological effects to nonhuman biota within the 30-km Exclusion Zone. The response of biota to Chernobyl irradiation was a complex interaction among radiation dose, dose rate, temporal and spatial variation, varying radiation sensitivities of the different taxons, and indirect effects from other events. The radiation-induced effects to plants and animals within the 30-km Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl can be framed in three broad time periods relative to the accident: an intense exposure period during the first 30 d following the accident of 26 April 1986; a second phase that extended through the first year of exposure during which time the short-lived radionuclides decayed and longer-lived radionuclides were transported to different components of the environment by physical, chemical and biological processes; and the third and continuing long-term phase of chronic exposure with dose rates <1% of the initial values. The doses accumulated, and the observed effects on plants, soil invertebrates, terrestrial vertebrates and fish are summarized for each time period. Physiological and genetic effects on biota, as well as the indirect effects on wildlife of removing humans from the Chernobyl area, are placed in context of what was known about radioecological effects prior to the accident.

* Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Aiken, SC; Russian Institute of Agricultural Radiology and Agroecology, Obnisk, Russia; International Atomic Energy Agency, Vienna, Austria; § United Nations Scientific Committee on Effects of Atomic Radiation, Vienna, Austria; ** Ukrainian Institute of Agricultural Radiology, Kiev, Ukraine; †† International Union of Radioecology, Oslo, Norway; ‡‡ Centre for Environment, Fishery and Aquaculture, United Kingdom.

For correspondence contact: Thomas G. Hinton, Savannah River Ecology Laboratory, University of Georgia, Aiken, SC, or email at thinton@srel.edu.

(Manuscript accepted 29 June 2007)

©2007Health Physics Society